To be or not to be a candidate for re-election, all the while pursuing a campaign to be president.
Mitt Romney, the Hamlet of Massachusetts politics, can now mull his future from the 59th floor of the John Hancock Tower, where he is leasing CEO-worthy office space.
The top of the tower comes with a sweeping view: On a clear day, you can see New Hampshire, the first presidential primary state.
"The governor has rented office space in the Hancock Tower for personal and family use, and from this office he manages family financial affairs and the activities of his charitable foundation," explained Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom, via e-mail. "He also from time to time may conduct political fund raising that he is prohibited by law from cond3ucting on state property."
Toronto-based Manulife Financial, which owns John Hancock Financial Services, has been moving top executives to its new Congress Street headquarters. Vacated space in the tower, now owned by Beacon Capital, is available for lease; top floors lease for about $52.50 a square foot, putting it at the top of the Boston real estate market, according to the Greater Boston Real Estate Board. Fehrnstrom said that Romney signed the lease and is using his own money to pay for his new workspace. His campaign staff continues to work out of Romney Committee headquarters at 88 Merrimac.
Will he or won't he run for re-election — and when will he inform Bay State citizens — remains the dominant political storyline in Massachusetts. Fehrnstrom repeated the Romney mantra that an announcement will come "in the fall." Meanwhile, the governor continues to keep the locals guessing, with what Secretary of State William F. Galvin calls his "dance of the seven veils."
Last week Romney took center stage as he welcomed evacuees from Hurricane Katrina to Massachusetts; an aide carrying a video camera chronicled every move. This week Romney postponed a planned trip to Israel, saying he wants to focus on his legislative agenda on Beacon Hill. Meanwhile, he continues an active, out-of state schedule. Romney spent Monday in New York City, where he spoke to members of the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. Afterward, he addressed rich GOP donors.
Wednesday, he spoke before the Heritage Foundation in Washington. He is scheduled to spend upcoming weekends with New Hampshire and Michigan Republicans.
And now comes word of Romney's room with a view in the Hancock Tower. Would a governor who planned on spending a great deal of time in his State House office need such high-rent work space?
One person who is not waiting for Romney to reveal his decision officially is Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey. She used the summer to set herself up as Romney's heiress apparent, and used her husband's wealth to scare off Republican challengers. Sean Healey cashed in $13 million in stock options, and Harvard Pilgrim CEO Charlie Baker opted out of a GOP gubernatorial primary. Healey has also done a good job of separating herself from Romney on key issues. Moving to the left of Romney, she came out as pro-choice and pro-civil unions for gays.
Two Democrats are currently running for governor. Attorney General Thomas Reilly has $3 million in his campaign coffers, but continues to irritate key liberal constituencies, as well as others who can't figure out his broader message. Most recently, Reilly enraged gays when he certified a citizens initiative petition that would ban same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. Deval Patrick, a former Justice Department official, attracts liberals in theory, but fund-raising continues to be a problem. Patrick has been spending more than he has raised and recently slashed or stopped payments to some of his top staffers.
Galvin, who said he is still considering a gubernatorial run, considers Healey "formidable for a couple of reasons." She successfully raised her political profile, carved out independence from Romney and, said Galvin, has access to "limitless amounts of cash from her husband." Galvin believes Democrats are making a mistake if they underestimate Healey: "We still act like it's 1986. We continue to believe that whoever wins the Democratic primary is the presumptive favorite in the general election."
Personal wealth is a common thread in the Romney-Healey administration. It sets a high bar for challengers who want to make the case against dilettante Republicans who win office and then flee the jurisdiction.
Romney, meanwhile, has a world-class view as he contemplates his political future. Today, the White Mountains. Tomorrow, the White House? If only Massachusetts would leave him alone.
Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is vennochiglobe.com.